Even if Kyle Busch doesn’t listen, he still hears it all.
You didn’t deserve it. Doesn’t count. You shouldn’t even have been there.
They are the sort of verbal daggers his detractors have been stabbing him with ever since he won his first NASCAR Cup Series championship, in 2015. Of course, Busch missed 11 races that year as he recovered from a broken right leg and left foot sustained in a crash in the season-opening Xfinity race at Daytona. When NASCAR granted him a medical waiver that left him a path to make the Chase, Busch made the most of it and rode all the way to the championship.
And right about then is when those arguments started materializing.
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“You still hear it, but it doesn’t bother me,” Busch said Thursday. “Trophy’s still sitting in the shop, so ain’t nobody taking that from me. They can make as much of an argument as they want to, but fact of the matter is, NASCAR and all the record books and everybody else will still say 2015 champion, Kyle Busch.”
Busch isn’t satisfied with just the one title though, and now he’s on the cusp of that second championship. The difference this time around?
Nobody can tell him he doesn’t belong.
Whatever happens, happens
For eight, nine, maybe even 10 months after that initial championship, Busch kept the trophy at his home, a daily reminder of what he’d accomplished. Then after his shop was remodeled, he moved it there – along with his winning No. 18 car – to give it a more permanent home.
But there has been an added benefit to that, too.
“I don’t need a friendly reminder of a championship each and every day,” Busch said. “I know there’s another one to go get.
“I don’t want a remembrance of something I already have. I want the challenge of being able to go get another.”
Busch almost had that second title last season, but Jimmie Johnson swooped from behind to steal it out from under him at Homestead. Then earlier in the 2017 playoffs, it looked for a while like Busch might not get that chance at all.
He finished 29th at Charlotte and 27th at Talladega, both in the second round of the playoffs, which put him below the imaginary line in the cutdown race at Kansas. Busch needed a good finish, plus a little bit of luck.
“I was worried that we weren’t going to make it back,” Busch said. “I said in my mind going into Kansas the same thing I said in 2015 when it was time to win a championship at Homestead: Whatever happens, happens.”
What that was ended up being exactly what Busch needed. He finished 10th, a solid-but-not-spectacular finish, and Kyle Larson’s blown engine allowed Busch to creep through to the third round. A win at Martinsville the very next weekend meant that, despite his stumble, he would get that chance for a second title.
‘A second championship validates the first’
At the same time as Busch has been prepping for Sunday’s championship race at Homestead, he’s also been pulling double-duty at home. Namely, teaching his 2-year-old son, Brexton. Even more specifically, giving him vocabulary lessons.
“Been teaching him the word ‘champion’ so he’s more and more accustomed to maybe what Sunday is all about,” Busch said. “He loves winning as much as Dad because he gets to go to Victory Lane and celebrate, have fun and get thrown in the air. Play with confetti.
“He’s prayed all this week about going to Homestead and playing with confetti.”
Brexton may get that chance if his dad races the way he has most of the season. The favorite going into Sunday’s race will still be Martin Truex Jr., but Busch has kept pace with Truex better than any other driver this season. Plus, he has the advantage of championship experience over Truex ... even if those stray doubters won’t acknowledge it.
“No question I think a second championship validates the first one,” Busch said. “There’s a lot of arguments being made that we didn’t deserve the first one, that we should never have been there for the first one, but the fact of the matter is that we executed and did our job with the rules that were given to us and we achieved.”
But this isn’t 2015. That car, that trophy, that season, they are all in the past. Busch has the chance to write a new narrative on Sunday, and he’s hoping his son’s newest word will be the center of it all.
And if it will, maybe his second championship ring will prove that the first wasn’t a fluke, after all.